Testimony of Diane Katz
Director of Science, Environment and Technology Policy
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy
140 W. Main Street
Midland, MI 48640
Committee on Environment and Public Works
Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy
To Restore and Protect the Great Lakes
March 16, 2006
Mr. Chairman and Honorable Senators, good morning.
My name is Diane Katz, and I am director of science,
environment and technology policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The
Mackinac Center is a Michigan-based, nonpartisan research and educational
institute that assists lawmakers, the media and the
public in evaluating policy options. I greatly appreciate the opportunity
to join this discussion of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.
In the interest of brevity and clarity, I will speak
Before you is an ambitious Strategy intended to "restore"
the Great Lakes ecosystem. Using passionate language, the architects of this
Strategy claim that we have "failed to protect" our beloved Great Lakes. Putting
aside, for the moment, legitimate differences of opinion about the actual state
of the lakes, there is broad agreement that our stewardship of these amazing
waters requires significant change. But the shortcomings of the current approach
stem not from any lack of regulation or resources, as the Strategy report
contends. On the contrary, the problem is the excess of well-intended but
ill-conceived programs that fall under disjointed regulatory agencies at the
international, federal, state, provincial and local levels.
Unfortunately, the problem will not be remedied by the
Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, which prescribes more unwieldy and
inefficient regulation. As the report states, the Strategy was "developed
through an inclusive process aimed at achieving the broadest consensus
possible." That means the Strategy is more a product of the political process
than the scientific method — just like the existing regime.
Numerous restoration strategies for the lakes have been
hatched over the years. Most, if not all, have advocated an expansion of the
regulatory state. But we will achieve better results only by applying the most
basic truths of good governance — that incentives are more powerful than
punishment; that sound science yields better results than rhetoric; and, most
importantly, that citizens are far better stewards of their property than the
state will ever be.
There is no definitive accounting of the billions of
dollars allocated for Great Lakes programs. That in itself says a great deal
about the status quo. There is also no comprehensive accounting of the numerous
Great Lakes programs initiated over the past three decades. To fill this
information gap, the Mackinac Center has undertaken a "census" of Great Lakes
programs that so far has identified more than 200 government initiatives. Many
lack measurable goals, and there’s little of the coordination necessary to
maximize environmental improvements.
Rationalizing these myriad programs was the principal task
of the eight Strategy teams that crafted the restoration plan. What has
materialized instead is a regulatory wish list that is sweeping in scope but
limited in scientific and economic rationale. Hopefully, the Executive Committee
will pursue meaningful change rather than tinkering at the margins. This would
entail identifying for elimination the dozens of redundant, ineffective
programs, while also advocating for the restoration of property rights, common
law and impartial risk assessment as the foundation of Great Lakes stewardship.
The lakes deserve no less.
The Strategy also suffers from internal inconsistency. On
the one hand, the report laments the failure of existing programs to adequately
protect the Great Lakes. On the other hand, the Strategy calls for greatly
expanding the regulatory powers of the very government agencies that the
Strategy argues have mismanaged the job. It’s time to abandon the
command-and-control methods that empower the environmental bureaucracy.
It is further confounding that implementation of the
Strategy is assigned exclusively to federal cabinet officials, governors, mayors
and American Indian tribal leaders. But successful stewardship requires
market-based approaches that rely on private sector input.
The Strategy is also
compromised by its underlying supposition that the Great Lakes are teetering on
the verge of collapse. According to the
report, "Our Great Lakes … are succumbing to an irreversible ‘invasional
In fact, water quality has improved
dramatically during the past three decades in large measure because of more
efficient technologies. As stated in Michigan’s 2006 report, Water Quality
and Pollution Control, "The open waters of the Great Lakes have good to
excellent water quality." Indeed, wildlife is thriving, with hatchery stocks
comprising less than 20 percent of the trout population in Lake Superior.
Moreover, eagle sightings have soared, while analyses of blood and feathers
document a dramatic decrease in PCB concentrations compared to a decade ago.
Likewise, trout samples taken from four Great Lakes show an 85 percent drop in
PCB concentrations, from a high of more than 20 parts per million (ppm) in the
early 1970s to less than 3 ppm more recently. The fall fish survey by the
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recorded double the number of juvenile
perch than the previous record, set in 1989, when the survey was launched.
Mercury levels are lower, while lead accumulations have declined in every sample
since the 1980s.
Nor has public access to the Great
Lakes seriously diminished despite such claims in the Strategy report. Michigan
state forests, for example, provide 485 water access sites. The 96 state parks
in the Great Lakes State feature a total of 100 boat launches. Two national
lakeshores, Pictured Rocks and Sleeping Bear Dunes, span miles of Great Lakes
Missing from the Strategy report is any examination of
government’s role in exacerbating contamination of the lakes. Agricultural
subsidies, for example, have long contributed to excessive use of pesticides,
fungicides and herbicides, while water and sewage treatment grants have produced
inefficient facilities. In Michigan, more than 45 percent of the cases settled
by the water enforcement bureau in the past 15 years involved errant
municipalities, as well as counties and other public entities.
The infiltration of non-native species is a legitimate
concern. But a lack of comprehensive data has precluded informed decision-making
on environmental priorities. No basin-wide monitoring currently exists. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency has largely relied on a shrinking set of
indicators to gauge basin conditions.
Many government agencies only collect data on program
inputs, not outcomes. We know, for example, that $37 million has been allocated
this year for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. But there never has been
an independent evaluation of program effectiveness, according to the federal
Office of Management and Budget. Similarly, the Pesticide Enforcement Grant
Program measures success only by the rate of inspections that result in
enforcement action, rather than any actual reduction of pesticide runoff.
The Collaboration Strategy does emphasize a need for
"consistent methods to measure and monitor key indicators of the ecosystem’s
function." All of which would be most welcome. But unless and until we abolish
ineffective programs, there isn’t likely to be funding available to properly
launch new research initiatives.
The waste of resources is rampant. For example, some 88
research vessels operate independently in the Great Lakes, according to the
Great Lakes Association of Science Ships. Or consider that the Great Lakes Water
Quality Initiative (GLI) targets discharges from point sources despite the fact
that non-point sources, such as air depositions and agricultural runoff, are now
the greater sources of pollution. Moreover, many of the chemicals regulated
under GLI have long been restricted or banned.
The sheer number of proposed regulatory initiatives belies
any claim that the Strategy establishes priorities. Science would offer the most
reliable guidance for such a task. Unfortunately, a good many of the regulatory
goals are as unscientific as they are unrealistic, which undercuts the
credibility of the plan. For example, the Strategy calls for preventing "all new
introductions" of aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes, as well as the
elimination of "any or all" persistent toxic substances to the ecosystem. But
non-native species are an unavoidable fact of nature, as are naturally occurring
It is also important to recognize that a zero-tolerance
mentality toward resource use forecloses the development of environmentally
friendly technologies, and in doing so diminishes the wealth creation necessary
to further enhance environmental improvements. Well-meaning though it may be,
this doesn’t make effective policy.
Ideological absolutes also exacerbate the difficulties of
negotiating the policy trade-offs necessitated by limited resources. But even if we were to devote $20 billion more to lakes’
protection, as called for in the Strategy, the benefits would not be
commensurate with costs. Major pollution sources are now under control and, for
the most part, we are left to make marginal improvements that are much harder to
achieve. Just as dieters struggle hardest to shed those last unwanted pounds,
so, too, does further progress on the environmental front demand more
concentrated effort. Now more than ever, then, more effective policy is needed,
but the Strategy will only put that further out of reach.
In presenting this critique, it is not my intention to
denigrate the efforts of task force members. Their public service is admirable.
But meaningful progress in Great Lakes restoration requires more than good
intentions. It requires political courage in tandem with the application of
sound science and time-tested economic principles. Toward that end, I recommend:
Eliminating programs that cannot document environmental
improvements commensurate with costs.
A greater reliance on property rights and market-based incentives
to revive areas of concern.
Private-sector involvement in crafting more effective Great Lakes
Scrutiny of government’s role in exacerbating contamination of the
Development of a basin-wide data base of ecological conditions
with which to set stewardship priorities and determine effective remedies.
Ongoing measurement of program outcomes, not inputs.
These recommendations spring not
from mere ideology alone, although I fervently believe in limited government.
These recommendations reflect fundamental principles of governance that have
long proven to be the most successful in fulfilling policy goals. Finally, these
recommendations are rooted in my summers spent floating in Lake Huron, climbing
Lake Michigan dunes, and quenching my thirst with Superior’s chilly waters while
portaging Isle Royale. Such adventures are invaluable to the human spirit, and
more effective stewardship will help to ensure that the same opportunities exist
for generations to come.